Rosslyn Chapel

Rosslyn Chapel Guide Book
Rosslyn Chapel Guide Book

Last week whilst staying with our son in Scotland we visited Rosslyn Chapel.  The chapel was founded in 1446 and is still used today as a place of worship.  I first came across Rosslyn Chapel through reading Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code and was fascinated by it then. I never thought I’d actually visit it as we live so far away, but when I discovered through reading Ian Rankin’s The Falls that it is just a few miles south of Edinburgh and only a short distance from where our son is living we decided to go. It’s well worth a visit on its own merits (forget about Dan Brown’s book) if you get the chance. It’s simply the most stunning building, packed with stone carvings. It was a cold windy day, but there were  quite few other people there too, and I imagine it would be packed during the summer months.  

The Apprentice Pillar

I was surprised at how big the Chapel is, from outside it seems quite small but inside it is magnificent – the ceiling seems enormous, covered in stone carvings. After reading The Falls I wanted to see the Mason’s Pillar, the Apprentice Pillar and the carvings of maize over one of the windows (these were all clues to the cryptic questions in The Falls). The Pillars are eight feet high and are splendidly and elaborately carved. The legend goes that the Mason decided to go abroad to study the design for a pillar he’d been instructed to build and whilst he was away the Apprentice created the pillar having had a dream about how it should look. On the Master Mason’s return he was so enraged and jealous that he killed the Apprentice striking him with his mallet.

The roof of the Chapel is covered with a steel canopy whilst the conservation of the building is taking place – the masonry was saturated with water and pollutants and the canopy enabled the stonework to dry out before the repairs could be done. Photos are not allowed inside but here are a few photos of the exterior:

Rosslyn Chapel Exterior
Rosslyn Chapel Exterior
Rosslyn Chapel Exterior
Rosslyn Chapel Exterior
Rosslyn Chapel Under the Canopy
Rosslyn Chapel Under the Canopy

 And I did take a photo just before I went into the Chapel – for more photos see the Rosslyn Chapel website.

Rosslyn Chapel Entrance
Rosslyn Chapel Entrance
Of course, I was interested in all the mystery surrounding the carvings and their meanings and whether there really was a link with the Knights Templar. The guide book indicates that there were in fact connections – the carvings of the five-pointed star, the dove in flight carrying an olive branch, the floriated cross and the artichoke are all said to have Templar associations.

For me, though, it was the two pillars and the Biblical scenes that are the most striking, the crucifixion scenes and the images of death, particularly the series of figures each accompanied by a skeleton – known as the ‘dance of death’. The barrel-vaulted roof and stained glass windows are beautiful.  I’ll have to go back for another visit one day, once I’ve read the guide book in more detail – one visit is just not enough.

8 thoughts on “Rosslyn Chapel

  1. I have always wanted to go to Scotland, Ireland and England because of family ties (Norway too!). That chapel is beautiful! What a fun experience. I hope you had a great time while visiting your son. 🙂

    Thanks for stopping by and participating in Thingers last week! I’ve got the post up for this week, what do you do for your least-favorite books? ~ Wendi


  2. I’ve only started to read Rankin in the last few years, and am currently reading Set in darkness, the novel preceding The Falls. The chapel is beautiful, it will be good to have a real image of it in my head when I read the book. If I ever get to Edinburgh, I will be sure to visit it.


  3. Wow, oh, Wow. I first heard of Rosslyn Chapel in the Da Vinci Code also and for some reason I just want to go there. Not too long ago I read Song In Stone by Walter H. Hunt, a fiction centered around the chapel and it’s mysterious stones. You might want to take a look at it. I thought it was a really good book and enjoyed it immensely. My hubby read it after I did and he didn’t couldn’t put it down until the last page.


  4. Roslin and Rosslyn Chapel are definitely places to visit if you get the chance.

    Kaye, thanks for the info on the Song In Stone.
    There are also several non-fiction books on the Chapel, including “Rosslyn Revealed: Library in Stone” by Alan Butler and John Ritchie; “Rosslyn Chapel Revealed” by Michael Turnbull; and “The Rosslyn Hoax” by Robert L D Cooper.


  5. Wow! That is a beautiful and amazing place. And it has been there since 1446 and is still being used? That just boggles my mind. Thanks for sharing about your visit.


  6. This is one of my favourite places ever – for my 50th birthday our family stayed in the castle next door (it was freezing!). Your comment that photos are not allowed inside saddens me for new visitors, but makes me very glad I took pictures before there was a prohibition. I wish now that I had taken more. I love your picture through the doorway, it looks so inviting.



    ‘Rosslyn Chapel Revealed’ is unique in exploring the landscape of Midlothian in depth — the geology, the flora and fauna, illustrated by fascinating antique maps. It was this landscape that supplied the pink, yellow and grey stone for Rosslyn Chapel, cut from the ancient wildernesses of Roslin Glen.

    ‘Rosslyn Chapel Revealed’ explains in detail what few have done before — the daily life of the priests and choirboys at Rosslyn Chapel, one of 40 collegiate churches set up as powerhouses of prayer and song — some of the music still happily preserved in major libraries across Europe.

    ‘Rosslyn Chapel Revealed’ makes clear the central role of the Scots scholar Fr Richard Augustine Hay, related to the Sinclair by marriage, and involved in the strange but brief years around 1688 when King James VII set up a Roman Catholic Chapel Royal at Holyrood, a printing-press and a school and Fr Hay took part in the services.

    ‘Rosslyn Chapel Revealed’ explores the landscape of Midlothian from Temple village (home of glass artist and clarsach player Alison Kinnaird and folk musician Robin Morton, and once home to painter Sir William Gillies and author George Scott-Moncrieff), to Soutra Aisle and the unique ecumenical community of the Transfiguration.

    ‘Rosslyn Chapel Revealed’ uncovers the role of Sir Walter Scott in increasing the Chapel’s reputation for mystery and the ways in which successive poets, painters and photographers celebrated the extraordinary design of the Chapel.

    ‘Rosslyn Chapel Revealed’ ends with a new mystery, a challenge to its readers to uncover the truth behind an act of sacrilege committed in the Chapel in the 1470s, the answer to which lies in the Secret Vatican Archives in Rome.

    Among the myths ‘Rosslyn Chapel Revealed’ lays to rest are:

    • The Apprentice Pillar (also known as the ‘Prince’s Pillar) is a story found at a number of other medieval churches in Britain and the Continent. Interviews with 3 working stonemasons and an apprentice mason (at St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral Workshop, Edinburgh) show that no apprentice would have the skill to carve such a pillar that would take a year to complete

    • Knights Templar the Sinclair family were Crusaders (fighting to free the Holy Land). Templars had to swear vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. The Sinclairs were married, well-to-do and vowed allegiance only to the King.

    • American Corn two academic botanists with PhDs are quoted as finding no evidence of any specific botanical specimen in the decoration of the Chapel, apart, perhaps, from Hart’s Tongue Fern, an ancient plant that still grows in Roslin Glen.

    • Freemasons Freemasonic images were added to the Chapel in the 1860s when the Fourth Earl of Rosslyn, Grand Master Mason of Scotland, commissioned the architect David Bryce to ‘restore’ the Chapel. He took out a number of damaged stone ‘bosses’ in the Lady Chapel and replaced them with new, quasi-masonic carvings

    • The Red Light-Box photographs by Hill & Adamson show that the medieval tracery of the East Window was entirely different to that in the window today. New stone tracery and stained glass were inserted in the 1860s, including the triangle of red glass said to be a ‘light-box.’

    Michael T R B Turnbull
    Rosslyn Chapel Revealed
    (The History Press, 2009 paperback) ISBN-13: 978-0750944823

    All these facets of Rosslyn Chapel are profusely illustrated with some 30 colour photographs and 200 black and white images, as well as a copious footnotes substantiating all the evidence provided in the book, a detailed index and a contact list of useful organisations.


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